When Dr. Bone sits down to play,
it’s sometime after three.
The floor is empty except for dust.
There’s nothing left to see.
He settles his hands on the keyboard.
His fingers are long and black.
He leans a little and bends his head,
conjuring something back.
The upright is old and tired.
The ivory mostly gone.
The little left is cracked and thin,
yellow and smooth as stone.
They took the front off years ago,
hammered tacks in the felt.
Barrelhouse. Honky tonk. Blues & Rag.
Out back the cardplayers dealt
their hands, counted their money, quit.
He fingers a bass line easy and low.
His right hand blues a note. He doesn’t
remember his baby’s name, wonders
Where did it go?
When Doctor Bone sits down to play
The moonlight passes by.
Mamie dances and shows her legs.
He doesn’t know when or why.
Somebody’s husband pulls a knife.
It doesn’t matter now.
One man cuts. Another bleeds.
All of it part of the show.
Dr. Bone has beautiful teeth.
His collar is worn and white.
Dust on the dance floor shimmies and swirls.
Day runs close to night.
The door hangs loose on its hinges.
Dr. Bone rides a line.
Nobody comes and nobody goes.
The blues rise sweet and fine.
Blues is a twelve bar number.
The room hums like a hive.
The barkeep pours from a mason jar.
The juke is coming alive.
Dr. Bone knows the limit,
when to play the tag.
Five chord down to the tonic.
Slip your coins in the bag.
His hands splay out on a final chord.
The sky is shivering bright
Dr. Bone nods and shoots his cuffs,
evaporates into the light.
This poem first appeared in Town Creek Poetry.
Used here with the author’s permission.